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Joe Girardi: Yankees’ catcher Gary Sanchez is ‘capable of playing better’

In a market like New York, it’s often difficult for any ballplayer to juggle lofty expectations that are established before the season begins. Someone like Yankees’ catcher Gary Sanchez understands this, as only the foolish and starry-eyed truly believed the 24-year-old sophomore would repeat his torrid two-month home run pace of last summer over the course of an entire campaign in 2017.

But just because Sanchez hasn’t lived up to those onerous standards, doesn’t mean that he’s received poor performance reviews from his manager. 

“I think [Sanchez’s] had a decent year,” Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News on Sunday. “I think he’s capable of playing better. He went through the injury early on [missing 21 games due to a right biceps injury], which I think was pretty frustrating for all of us and him as well.

“I think there are things that he’s learning, as I think all young catchers do. They go through it. There are things that happen at this level that you’re not really exposed to at the lower level and you have to learn on the fly. I think offensively (opposing pitchers) have a better idea of what they’re dealing with and they pitch to them maybe a little bit different. He’s dealing with that. But his numbers are pretty good.”

Sanchez, who slashed .299/.376/.657 with 20 home runs, 12 doubles and 42 RBI over a 53-game stretch as a rookie in 2016, is slashing a moderately successful .265/.344/.470 with 14 homers and 46 RBI in 66 games this season. But of late, the first-time All-Star has struggled mightily at the plate, as he’s hit just .214 (70 at-bats) with one homer and 22 strikeouts in the month of July. 

Along with his hitting woes, Sanchez also hasn’t looked too smooth as a backstop for his pitchers. In 55 games with Sanchez behind the dish, he’s allowed nine passed balls, and he’s only helped throw out 38-percent of baserunners attempting to steal. While the league’s caught stealing percentage currently sits at 27-percent, Girardi told reporters that Sanchez is still “a work in progress” both offensively and defensively.

“I think he can get better. And we’ve had to make some adjustments,” Girardi told the NYDN. “He came up last year and caught pretty well so we didn’t make a lot of adjustments. But he’s had some struggles this year, and we’ve went to work. Very seldom is a catcher in his first four months in the big leagues a finished product. It takes a lot of work.

“I think we’ve seen him improve blocking. It’s something that we’ve worked with him very hard on. I think he’s received better. I think there’s some balls that have gotten by him that probably shouldn’t get by him. That’s going to happen to every catcher, but maybe a few more than should. Those sorts of things. I think adjusting to pitchers the way they’re pitching you now is something he could work on too. He doesn’t get a chance to throw a lot because teams don’t’ run on him a lot. But you have to stay sharp, there’s ways to stay sharp, and we’re working on that with him too as well.”

Although Sanchez has hit second in half of the games he’s started this year, his numbers are lackluster in the spot, as he’s slashed .225/.289/.419 (142 PA) with seven jacks, 18 RBI and 37 strikeouts. But out of the sixth slot, Sanchez has hit .419/.479/.884 (48 PA) with six homers, 17 RBI, and only nine strikeouts. Since the All-Star break (11 games), Sanchez has hit second six times.

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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